SNK Playmore brings a new King of Fighters game to consoles in the form of King of Fighters XII which as the title suggests is 12 long games in a series spanning several generations of consoles and originating out of Japan alongside Capcom’s Street Fighter series. Opting to stick with its 2D roots despite a shift to 3D for one of its games at least, how well does KOF 12 hold up in this day and age of 3D madness. Has staying with the 2D look benefited the game or does it really show its age against more modern looking games?
KOF XII is quite bare bones when it comes to modes of play and in this regard you might come away a little disappointed. Upon booting up the game you’re presented with Arcade, versus, Practice and Online options and that’s it. The Arcade mode allows you to enter a tournament versus the AI whereby you pick three characters from a roster of 22 male and female combatants and then duke it out across five stages with the emphasis being on winning against the clock in a time trial type environment. It’s not original and seems pretty standard fare for a KOF game. The twist being that for each stage you’re able to select the order of your team and also replay a stage once should you feel you can best your time.
Versus Mode is similar but removes the time element and allows you to choose 1 on 1 fights if you so desire. It’s also here where you can fight versus a human opponent locally. The practice mode essentially allows you to duke it out with your chosen fighter versus AI to learn moves and practice combos. The online mode is the resting place of online battles across the globe which in theory should offer an endless stream of opponents, yet due to very poor net code is practically unplayable and a useless addition in its current form.
The actual combat is pretty solid although seems to be tailored for beginners rather than pro players as some moves are omitted as well as some characters like Yuri, Vice and the buxom Mai. You’ve got hard and light two button attacks and then the familiar special attacks using directions and attack buttons. Finally you have super moves which require a little more complex movements and a fully charged bar to unleash. The addition of the critical counter is an interesting one and means players can turn the tides of battle if they can hit a hard attack just as an incoming hard attack lands. This allows for some explosive counter attack moves which can seriously deplete your opponents health bar.
Matches are fast and furious, although at times it seems the hit detection is a little off as a sweep for example might not connect to an opponent if they are still performing their own attack animation. It can be frustrating but generally points to getting your timing just right rather than hammering away at the attack buttons hoping for the best. There’s a lot of posturing in this game, although this seems to be a trait for all fighting games, however versus the AI there are some questionable antics as the computer throws punches and kicks at the air for no reason at all especially at range.
KOF XII features hand drawn characters of all shapes and sizes and generally looks good although some of the edges are not so smooth and seem quite jagged. However saying that, there’s certainly a splash of colour although somewhat dark in nature. The variation is neat and typically Japanese so that includes baseball cap wearing blonde Terry Bogard to the school girl looking Athena. There are very few stages here to offer as much variety as the characters which is a shame because what are on offer are generally vibrant and well animated as you travel to China, Egypt, France, Russia and the KOF dome. It just seems that the game is devoid of much content, and although die hard fans might be pleased, any newcomers are probably going to feel short-changed when comparing the offerings here with other fighters of this generation.
Animations are smooth and the combat works well with the controller, although purists will always argue for the use of a control stick. The menus are very basic and the word functional is probably best to describe them. However there are some basic flaws such as not being able to back out of the versus menu unless you start a match and quit from there, which seems to be an obvious oversight.
The sound is of a reasonable standard for a fighting game, but don’t expect any grand tunes to play out whilst you’re fighting. There menu music is little painful to listen to and if you leave any screen on standby for too long you’ll notice even more the lack of variation with the audio. In game, the sounds are adequate with few quips from the characters as they perform special moves and such like. Even the endings are simple static images with text and nothing more.
For KOF fans then sure there’s enough here to play with your mates or try and best your arcade mode time. But the reality is that beyond this there’s little else to mess around with if you’re the lone player. Taking the game online is just as painful and with such bad netcode on offer means that any attempt to make an engaging multiplayer community thrive is lost. In a nutshell we played versus a neighbour on the same exchange and the games were unplayable due to the horrible latency issues. This is a complaint that has been levelled at the game from across the board.
King of Fighters XII isn’t a bad game per se but and should please die hard fans of the series who will lap up anything SNK throw at them. Yet anyone else is going to perhaps look at the game in disgust and see a title that should have been placed on the XBLA at a low price point and been done with it. Quite frankly the game does not stack up well against other beat em ups simply due to the sheer lack of in game content. Gamers expect more these days and when you have such a bare bones game it’s hard to recommend a purchase. Only for true 2D beat em up and SNK fans.